When I first met you, I was like many graduates, young, excited, idealistic and nervous. Any blind date is frightening, and I had committed to spending two years with you. When I arrived, I had been traveling for almost 20 hours, and my mind was filled with a cloud of weariness almost as thick as the humid air.
As I traveled along your highways, I stared out the car window looking for something, anything, that would mark you as the exotic, interesting place I hoped for. At first, there was nothing. Then the driver pointed out Taipei 101, a strangely-shaped tower in the distance. But the first thrill of excitement to break through my exhaustion came with the sight of the Grand Hotel. Tall and majestic, its red and gold façade had all the elegance I had admired in your mainland sister, and at that moment, I knew that you had something to offer.
The years passed, and I became more and more familiar with the bustle of your streets, the grandeur of your mountains, the colors of your flowers, the flavors of your food and the welcoming smiles of your people. As friends introduced me to delight after delight, I realized with a thrill what a beautiful and interesting place you are.
You possess beautiful scenery: gorges, waterfalls and mountains, some of which meet the Pacific ocean in rocky beaches. Your forests are filled with flowers, animals and butterflies. And all of this is just a few miles from bustling cities where almost anything can be purchased from one of the convenience stores that sit on practically every block. I’ve always been more fond of the wilderness than of the city, but who could complain about a city that has a mountain range with several hiking trails in its center, as Taipei does?
And then there’s the food. You introduced me to fruits I had never tasted before – mango, guava, dragon fruit and pomelo to name a few. And even those I knew were sweeter. I often wondered whether the pineapple was fruit or candy, and your cherry tomatoes actually tasted like a fruit (which, biologically, I guess they are).
Then there are the many local delicacies I tried. Scallion pancakes fried and wrapped around eggs or other fillings, small dumplings filled with soup, noodles with sesame sauce and so many more than I could name. I loved your nearly infinite variety of teas– black, green, oolong and more mixed with milk or various kinds of fruit. Then you add tapioca, coconut jelly, fruit pieces or other things which I only know Chinese names for in the bottom of the cup. Now, we did have some disagreements over food, mostly when you misunderstood my home culture, but the hundreds of delicious meals you treated me to more than make up for the few bizarre ones.
Speaking of disagreements, I must admit that our first year together was a bit rocky. I’d never lived on my own, you see, certainly not while working full-time. And it did take a while for me to get used to you. But at those moments when I felt most homesick, when I most wanted to get on a plane and fly back to somewhere familiar, you would show me some unique aspect of your life that I hadn’t seen before. You would charm me with a building or a food I hadn’t yet tried, and I would remember that although I had left good things behind, the place I had come to was also good.
When that didn’t work, there were always people by my side, encouraging me and comforting me. I remember an elderly woman giving me a hug and saying, “If you miss your family, I will be your Taiwanese grandmother. So don’t be sad.” I remember friends sitting with me over long cups of coffee while I shared about my life. I remember adventures taken with individuals and groups up mountains, through city streets, to hole-in-the wall cafés, shops and flower festivals that I never could have found alone.
Taiwanese people were incredibly kind and willing to help. Once I dropped my wallet in a MRT (subway) station, and it was turned in to the information desk with all my money still inside. I lost count of the times strangers came up to me and asked if I was lost.
There are so many things I could say about you, Taiwan; so many things that you have taught me; so many ways you made my life with you convenient and comfortable. I have fallen deeply in love with you, Taiwan, so much so that it broke my heart to leave you. Our three years together have changed my life in ways I am only beginning to understand. Thank you, Taiwan. Though I have moved back to America, I will never forget you.
It would break my heart to say goodbye, so let me end with your own language: Taiwan, 再見 (zai jian). It literally means “see again,” and I sincerely hope I will.